Episode 16: Miami Ice
So, after my Jane Street weed monopoly imploded, it was back to the streets. There were always plenty of petty scams and hustles, and I’ll get into some of them later on, but today I’m going to talk about Florida. Why, you ask? Well, because I recently made a post at our sister page, Classic Gangster Society, about Detroit’s historic presence in Florida, particularly Miami. While putting it together, a memory popped in my head. One of the craziest memories I have from the double life I once lived. So, I decided to share that memory with you.
Now, the thing is, the Detroit Syndicate has always had a presence in southern Florida. My great uncle retired there. My grandfather’s brother and first cousin both retired there. One of my uncles had a place in Fort Lauderdale, and another had a condo in Hollywood, just north of Miami. Over the years, a handful of Detroit guys ran some small operations out of Miami, and even owned a few restaurants and other legitimate businesses. They also had some pretty big sports books, made heavy by a handful of rich Jews who lived in in the area, and liked to bet on football. From time to time heard my uncles joke about how bad the “old Rabbis” in Miami were at betting. I often thought that was a funny, anti-Semitic as it might be. I mean, I’m pretty sure they weren’t actually Rabbis. But then, who knows?
My uncles vacationed to Miami every winter. And when they weren’t down there, other members of the family used their places like timeshares. I never actually got to use the places myself, because someone who inevitably outranked me always laid claim to them. However, the Family had plenty of friends in the Miami area, so there was always a place for me to stay the handful of times I went down there. It was usually me and my cousins Joe or Tony. We were the ones who were “working” under my Uncle Pete Tocco, who like I mentioned before was only 12 years older than me and more like an older brother than uncle. He would always call ahead and let the Miami guys know we were coming down. Most of them were implants from New York and Chicago. A couple of them were from Tampa, associates of the Trafficante outfit. There were even a few guys who had grown up in Detroit and relocated down there to manage certain “interests” for people back home. It was like Miami had its own little Family, made up of implants from all over the country. Most of them were surprisingly young, too. I’m talking no more than mid-thirties. But they were all hustlers. Between them, they had a couple nightclubs in South Beach, a string of car-washes, a couple grocery stores, a few restaurants, and several other businesses. They also had their hands in high-end prostitution, gambling, loan-sharking, and a variety of low-level white-collar scams. But their primary source of income was, yup, you guessed it, drugs. Especially cocaine. “Miami Ice,” they called it.
There were two guys in particular. For obvious reasons, I can’t use their real names. But for the sake of this piece, I’ll call them Sal and Angelo. They were younger guys. Maybe mid-thirties. I’ll never forget the first time I met them. It was the middle of winter and I was itching to get the hell out of the freezing cold of Detroit, so I asked my Uncle Pete if he could find me a place to crash down in Miami for a few days. For some reason, I hated hotels. I liked my privacy. Plus, I hated wasting money on a hotel if I didn’t have to. So, about a week later, my uncle gave me Angelo’s number and told me to call him when I got to Miami. But Angelo ended up calling me first.
A few days later, when me and my cousin Tony landed at Miami International, my phone rang and it was Angelo. I’ll never forget what he said. There was no introduction. No platitudes. All he said was,
“We’re out front. Northwest Terminal.”
Obviously, my uncle had told him what time our flight was arriving. But I thought it was pretty cool that they were already there to pick us up. I’d figured we would just catch a cab to a hotel. But it didn’t work out that way. We didn’t need a cab or a hotel.
When we stepped out in front of the Northwest Terminal, I saw a tinted black Mercedes flash its lights at us. When we walked over, two guys stepped out. Both had strong New York accents and both were clad in tropical wool suits, which I thought was ridiculous since it was 90 freakin’ degrees out. But I’d soon find out that these guys loved to play the role, and they always dressed the part. I don’t think I ever saw them out of their suits. I mean, I remember going to a beautiful pool party with them one night, and both were wearing suits like they were John Gotti at a RICO trial.
“Hurry up and trow yo chit it the back,”
Sal said, gesturing to the popped trunk, his Brooklyn accent so thick I could barely understand him.
“I’m not tryin’ ta break a sweat out heyah.”
I remember thinking, probably shouldn’t have worn a suit, genius.
Sal was tall, dark, and handsome, albeit a little skinny with a slightly crooked nose. I pegged him as northern Italian, not Sicilian like me. He would turn out to be a good guy, although a little on the stupid side. Angelo, on the other hand, was the brains of the two. He was also very handsome, but slightly chubby and his slicked black hair was just beginning to thin enough to make it noticeable.
Once Tony and I were in the back seat of the car, Angelo looked at us in the rearview mirror.
“So, my boss told me to make sure we take good care of you guys,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Says to treat you like Family…” He chuckled and glanced at Sal. “I never knew we had Family in Detroit. I thought there was nuttin’ up there but eggplants and car factories?”
Of course, he was joking. He knew exactly who we were, or at least had been told who we were by his boss, a heavyweight shot caller named Bobby M., who was my Uncle Pete’s business partner in the cocaine business.
They ended up driving us to a beautiful house on some island in South Beach. Normandy Island, I believe it was called. I remember this because of World War Two. You know, the Allied Forces stormed the beaches of Normandy. But this island had no beaches. At least none that I saw. But the house was right on the water, a canal lined with beautiful homes, most of which had yachts moored behind them. This would end up being our living quarters on this particular trip down. When I asked Angelo whose house it was, he gave me a wink and said, “A friend of ours.” I never bothered to pursue it any further. I knew what that meant.
Angelo and Sal really rolled out the red carpet for us. They took us out to dinner every night and showed us around town. Everywhere we went, they introduced me as Al Tocco, “a friend of ours from Detroit.” I knew there was a connotation behind that, but I didn’t bother to correct him, or clarify that I was technically only a “friend of theirs.” I actually felt honored to have been introduced this way. It made me feel like a real somebody. And it made some of their closest associates show me a lot of respect, even though the truth was that I was really just a relative nobody. But being even a half Tocco held a lot of weight, and the Miami guys knew my family history. They treated me like I was out-of-town royalty. Which was mostly because they knew I was the nephew of Pete Tocco. Who, along with and his partner Bobby M. (that’s a story for another day), hand his hands deep in the Miami cocaine game at the time.
We hit a few strip clubs and, of course, they took us to the most popular clubs in Miami. One was called “Liquid.” For years, I couldn’t remember the name of the place, but just recently someone brought it up and triggered my memory. The place was crazy. I was probably only 22 at the time, and had never really been exposed to the Miami club scene, which was a lot different than in Detroit and New York. The clubs there in Miami were bigger, more glamorous. And this place was one of the biggest and most glamorous. Angelo and Sal knew its owner. “A friend from back home,” they said, so we didn’t have to wait in line like everyone else.
Inside was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Everything was neon lights and real classy. New everything. Almost futuristic. The place was packed to capacity, with beautiful people everywhere. I’d never seen so many beautiful women. I mean, the place was packed full of Playboy models. And they all seemed to know Angelo and Tommy. Even some of the most affluent and influential people in Miami, including a handful of celebrities, came over to pay homage to these two young Miami wiseguys.
At some point while we were down there, we ended up on a huge yacht behind some waterfront mansion in Biscayne Bay. Had to be ten girls to every guy. They were bringing cases of Louis Roederer Cristal champagne on the boat by the case. Everyone was drinking it like Koolaid. Girls were walking around the boat with their bikini tops off. People were snorting coke right out in the open. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone, like I was in a scene from Scarface.
But I remember feeling really uncomfortable, totally out of my element. Back home, it was a different scene. Detroit parties and nightclubs could get rough. Every guy was a wannabe tough guy, and they always trying to prove it. It was rare that a night out in Detroit didn’t end in a brawl. That’s just the way it was. That’s how I had grown up, always ready for a good fight. And back home, everyone knew me and what I was about. Guys knew better than to try me. And I usually had at least a few guys from my crew with me. That’s why there in Miami, surrounded by a bunch of drunken, coked-up dudes, I was totally nervous. I was worried that I was going to get in a fight, and I didn’t know who was with who. I didn’t even try getting with any of the girls who were flirting with me, because I didn’t know who they might be with. For all I knew, their coked out boyfriend was the loudmouth drunk over by the bar with a bunch of his boys. That’s just how I thought back then. Being from Detroit, you have to think like that if you want to survive. So, I ended up barely drinking and staying to myself most of the night. And I warned Tony to do the same. We did have fun, sure, but I personally never felt comfortable in such settings. It was too foreign to me. We all have our comfort zones, and that definitely was not mine.
A few months later, I got a call from my uncle, saying
“Miami needs our help.”
So, that Sunday, after dinner at my grandparent’s house, we took a ride in his car. During this ride, he told me that Angelo had been having some problems with a local Cuban who had been undercutting him in his weed business. I found this odd, since I didn’t even know Angelo was involved in the weed business. But my uncle explained that it would be an easy score. A simple robbery-style play. Angelo had been working on it for months, but he needed some outside muscle to pull it off, muscle that nobody could tie to him.
Now here is where things got interesting. My uncle was in real tight with a biker gang, the Vigilantes. One of his childhood best friends, Arty, was one of their top shot-callers who helped move a lot of drugs for the Family. One of Arty’s guys had been introduced to Angelo’s competing dealer through a friend of a friend. That way, there was no connection. That guy, using money provided to him by Angelo himself, proceeded to buy loads of weed from this competing dealer. But Angelo had a plan. A good one. He actually had the dealer tailed for weeks, trying to figure out where the weed was stashed, hoping he would find the stash house and hit the motherlode. Eventually, he figured out that the weed was being stashed at an auto body repair shop the dealer owned, located in Del Rey Beach. That’s when he called my uncle for help.
It was supposed to be an easy play. A jack-move. A simple larceny from a building—bust through the bay door with a utility van that had been rented using a stolen credit card. Get in, load up, get out. The weed would then be stashed in a conversion van that my uncle had paid cash for in Boca Raton. The conversion van would then be loaded onto a flatbed truck and shipped north to Detroit. That’s how he moved large loads of drugs around, because even if the driver was stopped, the cops would have no reason or probable cause to search the van on the flatbed. And the driver wouldn’t be the slightest bit nervous, because he would have no idea he was hauling around drugs. Everything was mapped out and planned with military precision. But you know how it goes. Nothing ever works out as planned.
I was told that we would be stealing 600 lbs of weed, and that I would get 10%. Even at wholesale prices, that would mean at least $50,000 for me. I was fine with this. I needed the money so I was excited about the score. We decided to hit the place early, only an hour after it closed, hoping that we could get in and get out quick, then blend into traffic and disappear. The body shop had bay-style doors that led to a back alley, so that was our point of entry. To throw off the cops, we dialed 911 from a payphone and reported a robbery in progress a few miles away. This would send all the local cops running to that location, hopefully giving us enough time to get in, load up, and get out.
It was me, my uncle, and his biker buddy Arty. My uncle was driving. After pulling down the alley and seeing all was clear, he rammed the van straight through the back door. We assumed it triggered a silent alarm, so we had to move quick. But just as we jumped out of the van, some Cuban dude and a big ass Rottweiler came charging through a doorway that led to what I assumed was an office of some kind. Suddenly all hell broke loose. The dog started barking and going nuts. The Cuban, whose hair was a mess and looked like he had been sleeping, began yelling at us in Spanglish. My immediate thought was we needed to back the hell out and cut our losses. But my uncle had brass balls. We were there, and he was determined to get that load of dope. Next thing I knew, he was jumping out of the van with a pistol aimed at the Cuban. I was shocked, because I had no idea he was even packing.
He started yelling back at him,
“Where’s it at? Where’s the fuckin’ shit at?”
But the Cuban didn’t seem shaken, and the dog started lunging and biting at my uncle. It was pandemonium!
The gunshot sounded like a bomb going off in the little body shop. For a split second, I thought my uncle had shot the Cuban. But then I heard the dog squealing in pain. The thing was on its back, kicking around, blood spurting out of a hole in its side. This is when things really started to get crazy. The Cuban flew into a rage, grabbed a big pipe off a frame straightener, and lunged at my uncle.
The second shot seemed even louder than the first, and all I could think was that we needed to get the hell out of there! From my position behind the passenger seat in the van, I leaned up and saw the guy on the floor, clutching his thigh, where my uncle had just shot him. It was all going bad. And fast!
Arty was now out of the van, yelling at my uncle, telling him to shoot the Cuban because he didn’t want to leave any witnesses. But my uncle was still screaming at the Cuban,
“Where’s the fuckin’ mootah!”
At first the Cuban played dumb and acted like he didn’t know what my uncle was talking about. But when my uncle grabbed him by the hair, shoved the gun into his mouth, and said,
“This is your last chance,” the guy cracked.
“There!” the Cuban capitulated, wincing in pain, pointed to a metal door in the floor. “Down there!”
Pulling open the corrugated metal door, I saw a set of metal stairs leading down to a storage room. Hurrying down the steps, I took a quick look around and saw the room was filled mostly with boxes of various parts and paints. But against the back wall was what we were looking for. Stacked on a series of metal shelves were about a two-dozen big plastic totes.
“Go-go-go!” my uncle yelled.
While Arty and I quickly loaded the totes up, my uncle kept his gun trained on the Cuban, who was crying and begging for us to call him an ambulance. He kept saying,
“Don’t let me die! Please, call me an ambulance!”
He was bleeding but not that bad. I knew he wasn’t going to die.
I remember it was so freaking hot down in that storage room! I mean, heat stroke blistering hot. Sweat kept running into my eyes, which burned and made it hard to see. And those totes were heavy, each packed with 50-pound bricks of compressed weed.
But after about ten exhausting, adrenaline-fueled minutes, we were able to load all the totes into the van.
As soon as we slammed the doors shut, Arty looked at my uncle and said,
“Shoot the fucker… let’s go.”
I really thought my uncle was going to do it. I mean, bad as it sounds, it would have been the right thing to do from a criminal standpoint. Never leave witnesses. But, for whatever reasons, my uncle let the guy live. He later explained that the Cuban had no idea who we were, so there was no point in killing the guy. He simply tucked his pistol into the small of his back, jumped in the van, and we sped off. The whole way back to Angelo’s place, Arty bitched about my uncle not killing the Cuban. My uncle barely even said a word in response. I think he was too jacked up on adrenaline to talk. I know I was!
Here is where things get even crazier, if that was even possible. We had just stolen more than 600 pounds of weed, but upon inspection we found 8 kilos of pure Colombian cocaine, “Miami Ice,” just sitting under a 50-pound block of compressed weed. Wholesale value for the whole score, about $700,000!
Unfortunately, when it was all said and done, I ended up getting screwed over. Angelo took half the load for setting it all up. The rest was shipped north to my uncle. But he only gave me $11,000 in cash and 18 pounds of weed—total value of maybe $30,000. Meanwhile, he walked with 300 pounds and a $100,000 worth of coke. When I complained, he justified screwing me over by explaining that he and Angelo had been working on that score for months, and that I only put in one night’s work.
“All you did was load up some totes,” he said. “You should be happy about what I gave you.”
Yeah, I know. What a joke. My own uncle screwed me. But that’s life in “the life.” Everyone is greedy and screws each other over as often as they can. Even family. Sure, I was pissed. But in the end, how could I complain? I knew what I was getting into. I knew going into it that my uncle would likely screw me. And really, he did have a point. I made $30,000 for basically a single night’s work. That was more than some of my friends made in a year at their jobs. But from that day on, I slowly began distancing myself from my uncle. After he screwed me over like that, I began branching off into my own independent operations, which was how I become known as a “lone wolf.” But I’ll save that for next time.
If you would like to sample more of Gunner’s work, checkout his novels, “To Be A King,” and see for yourself why it is being called “the next Godfather…